Traveling on an Airplane When You Have Diabetes: Some Considerations

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro
  • Hello, fellow travelers! Welcome to part two of "Diabetes and Travel"! My sources alerted me to issues related to the TSA and the screening of adults/teens and children on insulin pumps. Many questions have arisen in chat rooms and blogs regarding the purpose of screening, the power of the screeners, and "inappropriate methods" of screening. It is clear, however, that you should be able to proceed through the standard metal detectors without undue issues. Concerns have been raised about "undue" screening diligence in regard to minors wearing insulin pumps. I know of one family whose  child was removed from the security line to receive a more detailed screening from one of the security agents. This frightened the child. When the parent asked the agent why there was such a need, he was told about the possibility of terrorism, etc.

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    What are the justifiable limits of the TSA and when is it appropriate for a child, teen, or parent to set appropriate boundaries?


    The following material is copied from the TSA and airline travel web site:

    We are continuing to permit prescription liquid medications and other liquids needed by persons with disabilities and medical conditions. This includes:

    • All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including KY jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes;
    • Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition;
    • Life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs;
    • Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids; and,
    • Gels or frozen liquids needed to cool disability or medically related items used by persons with disabilities or medical conditions.

    However, if the liquid medications are in volumes larger than 3 ozs each, they may not be placed in the quart-size bag and must be declared to the Transportation Security Officer. A declaration can be made verbally, in writing, or by a person's companion, caregiver, interpreter, or family member.

    Declared liquid medications and other liquids for disabilities and medical conditions must be kept separate from all other property submitted for x-ray screening.

    Disability-related items permitted through the security checkpoint include:

    • Wheelchairs
    • Scooters
    • Crutches
    • Canes
    • Walkers
    • Prosthetic devices
    • Casts
    • Support braces
    • Support appliances
    • Service animals
    • Baby apnea monitors
    • Orthopedic shoes
    • Exterior medical devices
    • Assistive/adaptive equipment
    • Augmentation devices
    • Ostomy supplies
    • CPAP machines and respirators
    • Hearing aids
    • Cochlear implants
    • Tools for wheelchair disassembly/reassembly
    • Personal supplemental oxygen
    • CO2 personal oxygen concentrators
    • Tools for prosthetic devices
    • Medications and associated supplies
    • Braille note takers
    • Slate and stylus
    • All diabetes related medication, equipment, and supplies
    • Any other disability-related equipment and associated supplies

    It is in writing that "all diabetes related medication, equipment, and supplies" may be allowed to go through the screening checkpoint. The information is very clear. So, why does this seem to be a reoccurring problem?


    Case in point (this really happened): I was traveling to San Francisco with my nursing coordinator  who happens to have type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump. We both went through the screening line (she was wearing her pump) and had all her pump supplies, meter etc. in her travel bag. I, on the other hand, without any medical supplies was removed from the line and had a more intensive screening (including a female attendant pat-down). I will admit that I was enraged, and voiced my discontent vociferously. It got me absolutely nowhere. Other than delaying my journey to the gate and many "ruffled feathers," nothing really happened. However, it took quite a bit of time for me to settle down.

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    I had another experience traveling through Hartford, Connecticut. I had a valued perfume (in the bottle) that was 3.1 ozs and it was confiscated by a very "powerful" screener who gave me no alternative. It was an emotional day for personal reasons and I became weepy as that perfume was actually very special to me. I went through the line and sat down in the area and probably shed a few tears. The police officer came over and immediately figured out what had occurred and a screaming match ensued between the police officer and the screener over "power" and the TSA screener literally threw the perfume bottle to the police officer who escorted me outside to mail it back home. Why am I going though these personal anecdotes? I share these stories (and I am sure that each of you have a similar story) to demonstrate the irrationality of some of these TSA screeners. (Disclaimer: Most TSA screeners just want to do their jobs with dignity).


    When do we as the public set limits to inappropriate behavior or roll through the situation as best as possible and move on? When do we say the line has been crossed so that our children and teens advocate for our personal dignity? I am ambivalent in regard to this issue.


    On one hand, my feeling is that life as we knew it 10 years ago is not the same and measures must be taken to ensure our ultimate security. And, if it inconveniences certain parties, as long as no bodily harm occurs, so be it. However, what about emotional harm? When is it time to say enough? As a result of these anecdotes, I have come to a compromise in regard to ordinary people placed in positions of power who abuse their authority. In a situation, where a child or teen has adhered to the rules as described above, gone through the metal detector etc. and are stopped by security, the key (to me) is the manner in which they do further screening. If the screener is polite, non-threatening, explanatory, and exhibits compassion to the plight of the traveler, so be it as long as someone's dignity is not destroyed. Teaching resilience to your child or teen and allowing them to roll with resistance in these situations is valuable and will serve to help them in future incidents. As the adult, you must take the lead and demonstrate appropriate behavior. Clearly, if the TSA screener does not behave in a professional, respectable, and appropriate manner, your duty is to report the screener to his superior and follow through. He may need to go to some further classes to learn how to deal with the public or be removed from his position. Our goal is to change inappropriate behavior by modeling the desired behavior, which is a very hard task, indeed.

  • It is very clear that pumpers should fly through the security line without impunity based on the law. However, interactions and conflicts with inappropriate, disrespectable people will continue to occur despite our wishes. Our goal should be to model behavior that not only is proactive, but assures that the undesirable behavior does not continue. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, our children observe our behavior and learn what to fear or not. Children, teens and adults with and without medical issues need to advocate for their rights by applying the appropriate means to achieve these goals.

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Published On: May 05, 2009